As a child, a periodic trip to the pediatrician’s office usually brought me some (sometimes a lot of) trepidation. Whether my mom brought me in sick or for a check-up, shots often resulted.
However, one aspect of my pediatrician’s office captivated my sense of wonder and moderated my anxiety, if for a few moments – a gigantic aquarium that seemed to take up an entire wall of the doctor’s waiting room.
Even when I felt under the weather, this massive wall of water, filled with colorful and exotic fish and rocks and features drew my child’s eye. I remember making my way and pressing my face to that glass, no doubt sharing a few germs in the process.
But also, I could see through this aquarium into another room with other children and their moms or dads. For years I wondered: What and who was on the other side of that sea?
I remember the day when I saw another boy from my class at school, David, walk with his mother to the other side of that vast wall aquarium. That day, with my mother’s encouragement I first ventured around that wall to the other side of the sea, that vast wall aquarium.
I greeted David, both of us there for vaccinations that day, but I quickly turned my attention to the aquarium. To my surprise, the other side of the aquarium offered no new views! From the other side of that wall, the built-in aquarium held the same fish and features.
And yet, the other side of the sea was different. All the children and families on that side of the wall had darker skin than me.
This was the mid-1960s in the deep South, the first year of school integration, and my classmate was black and I was white. Our pediatrician’s office, like most public spaces, still separated all the African American children waiting to see the pediatrician from Anglo children like me. My mother urging me to go around the wall to David, I later realized, wanted me to see the other side.
In his last speech before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. closed with words drawn from the life of Moses: I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
I join those who believe Jesus Christ gives us strength to cross vast seas, looming mountains, and any divide that would keep us from doing God’s will and loving one another. “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the diving wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (Ephesians 2:14)